Written by Olivier Ferlatte
Since March, the CBRC team, in collaboration with the Investigaytors and our community partners, has been working on the development of Sex Now 2014. The survey will continue our exploration of gay men’s health, this time with a life-course lens by looking at differences across generations.
We hope to get new information about the impact of gay men’s social and physical environment on health. In our last survey (Sex Now 2011), we asked participants to tell us the first three digits of their postal code (also known as an FSA or Forward Sorting Area). FSAs helped us locate the geographic regions of our participants (not a specific street or address) and allowed us to do some new analysis comparing regions. We found some important differences across geographical regions in British Columbia. For example, we revealed that men living outside of Vancouver were less likely to get routinely tested for STIs and to be “out” about their sexuality to their doctor. We also found that men in smaller communities are more likely to feel disconnected from the gay community and to experience loneliness.
In our upcoming survey, we hope to produce new information about these differences in order to better inform health promotion activities for gay and bi men across the province. To help us identify the issues of importance to smaller communities, I visited Nanaimo, Prince George and Nelson to consult with gay and bisexual men over the spring and the summer. They described many issues that are particularly affecting gay and bisexual men from rural regions and smaller cities.
One of the main issues faced by gay and bisexual men in smaller communities is the lack of access to quality care. In all the areas I visited, gay and bisexual men talked about the difficulties to finding a doctor that is competent and knowledgeable about gay and bisexual men’s issues. The same issue was also noted for counselors, which makes it difficult for gay and bisexual men to seek help for their mental well being.
A second issue that was highlighted in my consultations was the lack of spaces for gay and bisexual men to meet and build relationships. In smaller communities, gay and bisexual men rely heavily on the Internet to connect with one another because of the absence of gay bars and community spaces. While the Internet may facilitate sexual connections, many described the difficulties of establishing meaningful connections via online networks. This results in many men experiencing difficulties establishing friendships and feeling isolated. This was seen as an important factor affecting the mental health of gay and bisexual men in smaller communities.
Finally, in relation to the last concern, many men described a lack of unity among gay and bi communities in smaller communities. This was particularly noted across ages; there is very little dialogue between younger and older gay men. This prevents mentorships and knowledge sharing across generations, which was seen as crucial by the men we consulted to build a flourishing and strong gay and bi men’s community.
We have incorporated the issues described in our consultations into our survey questionnaire for Sex Now 2014. Now our challenge will be to get sufficient men to complete the survey in each area of the province. However, the men we connected with were not short on ideas for promoting Sex Now 2014. Since many men use online networks to connect with one another, these were seen as the logical way to promote the survey. More so, some suggested engaging community heroes and the diverse groups serving the community to spread the word.
Finally, we were please that many of the men I met agreed to become a Sex Now Ambassador to help us promote the Sex Now 2014 across BC. Do you want to become a Sex Now ambassador yourself? Connect with us and help us to make Sex Now 2014 the biggest and hottest gay survey in Canada!
Happy Pride Nelson! Olivier Ferlatte from the Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men's Health at Nelson's Pride Festival in September 2014.